||[Jun. 14th, 2008|04:05 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#78 30 DAYS OF NIGHT: JUAREZ OR LEX NOVA AND THE CASE OF THE 400 DEAD MEXICAN GIRLS – Matt Fraction, Ben Templesmith
“Smells like tortilla and dead girl out here.”
In 2003 The Observer published an article about the Mexican town of Juarez, a border town and centre for drug-trafficking populated largely by women who came from the country to find underpaid jobs in its American-owned factories. The women went missing with alarming regularity, and when they were found they were often found dead. The authorities investigated but achieved little and women kept flooding into town, desperate for work. It was a disturbing and fascinating cycle and there probably wasn’t a single writer who read that article and didn’t want to use it. Taking a true story and dramatising it in a way that treats the people involved with the sensitivity they deserve isn’t an easy thing to do, however.
Matt Fraction managed to do it with vampires.
The original 30 Days Of Night series was based on a single clever idea: taking vampires and putting them far enough north of the equator that they could enjoy two entire months of darkness in which to wreak havoc. What made it special was Ben Templesmith’s atmospheric art, with the vampires drawn as inhuman predators, their lips parting to reveal impossible maws overfilled with jagged teeth. While putting the vampires south of the border in Juarez, he maintained that style, and built on it. The juggalo vampires are even more menacing for their clownish makeup and everything looks like it’s been drawn on old newspaper, like the story it’s inspired by.
As mentioned, that story is handled with surprising delicacy. It’s not really spoiling things to tell you that in this comic it’s not the vampires who are responsible for the most horrible acts, but simple, mundane, human greed. The story’s told through the eyes of Lex Nova (Nova is Spanish for ‘no go’, which is why the Chevy Nova never sold in Latin America), a mentally damaged private detective who hopes to solve the mystery of the missing girls of Juarez if he can stop narrating out loud long enough to follow the clues. Nova’s rambling monologues provide an effective comedic counterpoint to the bleakness and horror of the story that’s being told without robbing it of its impact. Because it should have impact, as much as a blackjack to the back of a private detective’s head, a stake through a vampire’s heart or a headline about the unsolved loss of over 400 people.